The Indian cricket team won its second match in two days to book itself a spot in the 2023 Asia Cup final, defending a subpar total of 213 by 41 runs on a tacky Premadasa Stadium surface on Tuesday. Back at the venue a little over 12 hours on from beating Pakistan by a record 228 runs on the reserve day – which mean that the team played three days in a row – India had Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja to thank for this narrow win over Sri Lanka, whose record streak of 13 ODI wins in a row was halted.
If fatigue was a factohttps://in.dafanews.com/livescoreshttps://in.dafanews.com/cricketr for India, it did not show when Rohit Sharma won the toss, opted to bat, and then led another strong opening partnership with his third successive half-century. This match was not played on the same pitch as India versus Pakistan, which is why Rohit swapped Shardul Thakur for Axar Patel – a move clearly keeping in mind the World Cup next month, where there at least three venues at which spin will dominate terms – and batted aggressively to try and put his team in a strong position on a slow and low surface.
Rohit hit seven fours and two sixes during his 48-ball 53 out of an alliance of 80 in 11.1 overs with Shubman Gill, but once Shubman Gill was dismissed the rot set in on a sharply turning surface. Gill’s dismissal to the left-arm spinner Dunith Wellalage caused a collapse of nine wickets for 106 runs, before Axar and Mohammed Siraj dragged the score to 213. Wellalage, hitting terrific lengths and using his variations smartly, had Gill falling forward to be bowled, duped Virat Kohli into chipping to midwicket and then bowled Rohit with a faster delivery.
Suddenly India were 91 for 3. Fresh off a stunning comeback century the day before, KL Rahul scored a fine 39 off 44 balls while looking the most comfortable batsman against spin and added 63 with Ishan Kishan. Then Wellalage claimed his fourth as Rahul tamely patted one back, and from here it was the turn of an unlikely tormentor.
Charith Asalanka, who had a solitary wicket to his name before the match, and who had not been called on to bowl for 22 ODIs dating back to November 2022, added to India’s misery with figures of 9-1-18-4. His brand of offspin had India in a panic, as Kishan drove to Wellalage at cover – he was not about to be left out of the fun – and added Hardik Pandya, Jadeja and Kuldeep.
Left to defend 213, India were indebted to a top opening spell from Bumrah who had Pathum Nissanka nicking a superb ball to Rahul and Kusal Mendis spooning a clever slower ball to cover. When Siraj found the edge of Dimuth Karunaratne’s bat, the scoreline was 25 for 3 and India were pumped.
On came Kuldeep, and the wickets of Asalanka and Sadeera Samarawickrama followed. Jadeja’s extraction of Dasun Shanaka left Sri Lanka reeling at 99 for 6, but a stubborn partnership between Dhananjaya de Silva and Wellalage turned the tables. India suddenly struggled to beat the bat and find the edge, and the seventh-wicket alliance took the score to 162 before Jadeja returned and got de Silva for 41. In his last over, Kuldeep took out the tail to finish with 4/43 a night after claiming five wickets versus Pakistan. Wellalage was named Player of the Match for his 5/40, two catches and fighting unbeaten 42.
While India can celebrate being the first Asia Cup finalist, this streaky win brought to the fore a familiar frailty against spin. In 2022, India struggled against the likes of Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Tabraiz Shamsi and Shakib Al Hasan and earlier this year Adam Zampa and the West Indian pair of Gudakesh Motie and Yannick Carriah gave them problems. To lose all ten wickets to Sri Lanka’s spinners, of which four came to a part-time such as Asalanka, does not bode well for India ahead of the World Cup. Had Wanindu Hasaranga been fit for the Asia Cup, India might not have even made it to 150 yesterday.
India had their tail at the crease in the 39th over, which cannot be accommodated at the World Cup. The other concern is the ineffectiveness of Axar on a track suited for his variety of left-arm spin. He went wicketless across five overs that cost 29, whereas Kuldeep claimed four wickets and Jadeja two.
Still, to win three games in a row after that washout against Pakistan in Pallekele on September 2 is a big plus for Rohit’s team, who now awaits one of Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the final. This Asia Cup, despite Shreyas Iyer’s injury and a couple batting struggles, is proving to be a big momentum-shift for India ahead of the World Cup.